Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chronic Insomnia Rapid Fire Reviews!

(Powers Boothe not included)

Roundhouse kicking it off with:

Power Man & Iron Fist # 1
Marvel Comics
Script:      Fred Van Lente
Pencils:    Wellington Alves
22 pages for $2.99

Many mixed feelings on this book, although the more I ponder, the more I'm leaning toward labeling it pure garbage.

Iron Fist is still Danny Rand, who still plays it straight.  He now plays mentor to a new Power Man, Victor Alvarez, filling the role of the gregarious minority character in this edition.  Sweet Christmas, but Alvarez is annoying, almost exclusively so.  I suppose that's Van Lente's intentions, so perhaps it's a good thing that I can't stand this kid?

Aside from the prototypical brashness and naive "black and white" moral foundation, there's little to Alvarez.  Luke always seemed charming to me, even when he was being a dick.  It may not be a good idea to hold Victor up to Luke's standard, but when you name the book "Power Man & Iron Fist", the comparison begs itself.  I do not find the current version of Power Man charming in any way.

Perhaps it's the barrage of objections to the word "Master", or the Spike Lee "40 acres and a mule schtick".  I get it.  Danny's a white guy, Victor is not.  This is not new ground, and these lines are not insightful, or challenging, or cathartic.  They offer nothing healing or clever.  I imagine that material is in there with the idea that these things are wildly funny or "hot button".  It's all been done before in less irritating fashion.

I'm mildly interested in the sub-plot involving old school Heroes For Hire manager Jennie Royce.  She's (probably?) been framed for murder, and jaded Danny wants to help but isn't completely sure that his old friend is as innocent as she professes.  If that doesn't sum up the 21st Century, I don't know what does.

Power-Man, being the cock sure spitfire that he is breaks into Crime Buster's apartment to start working on the case illegally before Iron Fist has even decided he's going to get involved.  That's when the "masked stereotype" A plot busts into the B plot, and Victor is left to fend for himself against the whole lot since he ran off on his own.

I think the story can be salvaged, and it's not all terrible.  It's briskly plotted, and it was constructed in such a way that you don't need to have read the previous 125 issues of PMIF or the Shadowland: Power Man mini to function.  I think if you find Victor engaging you'll find the book engaging, but I find myself pining for Christopher Priest, who would handle these characters with more a more deft touch.

Osborn # 3
Marvel Comics
Script:    Kelly Sue DeConnick
Pencils:  Emma Rios
22 pages for $3.99

I have no mixed feelings about Osborn:  this is a delight on every count.  It's the little things, you see.  Writing Osborn is not easy.  At least, it isn't easy to write him correctly.  The problem with Osborn is that he's a genius, he's crazy, and he's charismatic.  It's easy to screw any or all of that up. The trap is to simply write gobbledygook in place of incisive wit, gobbledygook in place of true dementia. And how do you portray a voice that commands greater men?  (writers have similar problems writing Captain America, who often spouts empty stoic nonsense instead of commanding respect)

So why do others follow Osborn, fall into his trap?  He's got political and physical power, sure,and wealth, too.  But he's not off the charts in any of those categories - how does a guy like that take over The Initiative?  Deconnick explains it, in a wonderful soliloquy by Sen. Sondra Muffoletto, and then demonstrates it in a prison fight.  You want to know why Osborn is Osborn?  It's in this comic.

And she does it all seamlessly, without calling undue attention to any of her craft, letting you enjoy the narrative flow.  There are no bit characters in this book, everybody lives and breathes.  Everybody has their own voice, and their own motivations. This is the hard stuff made to look very easy, it's very rare, and that ladies and gentlemen, is Kelly Sue DeConnick.

I have not been in love with the pencils of Emma Rios up to this point, but I'm sold now.  There are framing shots and action shots in this comic that just dropped my jaw.  There is nothing to not like about Osborn other than the cover price of $3.99.

Superman # 708
DC Comics
Script:     Chris Roberson (and JM Straczynski?)
Pencils:   Eddie Barrows
20 pages + 5 Batman & Robin preview pages for $2.99

I don't know if this is the best comic on the stands.  Matter of fact, I know that it's not.  I do know that it is infinitely entertaining to watch Chris Roberson try to extricate himself from Straczynski's foundation in the most passive aggressive manner possible.

Does Roberson see it that way?  I don't know.  It seems like he's intentionally taking a literary dump on Straczynski's lunch.  What he's done is take the painfully earnest and bizarre "Grounded" Superman and explain it away as a cocktail of post-traumatic stress disorder combined with a dash of depression and a splash of super-villainess mind control.

The implied message goes like this:

"There's no way I can take any of Straczynski's work seriously, much less continue with it.  My only option is to paint what's gone before as the demented ramblings of a psychological victim."

And that is awesome.  He even brings in Wonder Woman as if to say "Yes, JMS ruined her, too.  Let me bring her back to normalcy as well and have a heroic Superman inspire into some form of normalcy."

Straczynski's name is still on the cover of this thing!  There's just no way this is what he had in mind.

The down side I guess is that after two issues, this still isn't really Roberson's book, it's still in the process of becoming "Not Straczynski's Book".  It's kind of weird that Clark just threatened Lois and just dropped the issue so that he could follow some Super People down the yellow brick road.  That group didn't really blow me away, I'm not feeling Superman's brain washing nemesis as a visceral threat yet, and Wonder Woman is in the same odd unidentifiable place that the title character is in.  The whole thing feels like a sputtering junker that Roberson is desperately trying to keep running, praying it makes it to the shop before it dies.

It's fairly awesome to watch it sputter, though, for now.  When do we get to the new good stuff?

- Ryan

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